Even as the Coronavirus outbreak is continuing around the world, tech companies are busy censoring the keywords Coronavirus, COVID-19 and COVID19. This time around, it is Google filtering search results on the Play Store for Android devices. Try searching for Coronavirus or COVID 19 or COVID-19 on the Play Store on your Android phone, and you’ll be greeted with a “No results found” response. However, and quite weirdly this, you can search for COVID19 without any space or hyphen between COVID and 19 and the Play Store search results list a whole bunch of apps, including the official app of the US Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC).
Earlier, the company had also enabled an SOS alert on Google Search for all coronavirus-related information from trustworthy sources. The coronavirus outbreak that has quickly spread to several countries across the world, has killed over 3,000 people. It had originated in China in December and has infected over 100,000 people in more than 60 countries.
Which was first to report about Google’s move, has shared before and after search results for coronavirus and COVID-19 keywords, that clearly show that until now, the Google Play Store did show results for ‘coronavirus and ‘COVID-19’ search queries. The report also says that Google has disabled the search results for its website play.google.com as well.
This comes a day after we had reported that Chinese instant messaging app WeChat, owned by Tencent, was censoring messages that contained keywords including Coronavirus, discussions of central leaders’ responses to the outbreak, critical and neutral references to government policies on handling the epidemic, President Xi Jinping, references to Dr Li Wenliang and more.
No wonder people are searching for answers, and tech companies including Google are scrambling to find the right balance between censoring fake news and providing the correct information. This decision from Google is not foolproof as it risks official applications not being able to reach the people and there are still ways to get around the disabled search. We have reached out to Google to get a better idea about its plan for implementing efforts to curtail misinformation on the virus outbreak in Play Store, and we will update this report when we hear back.